In the previous blog I gave 5 ways to help you excel in giving. Here are five more…
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven…” (Mt 6:19-20). Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God…In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Tim 6:17-19).
How interesting: God has no problem with us ‘hoarding’ up treasure for ourselves…so long as it is in the right place – in heaven, not on earth. Imagine that you lived in England and you were 20 years old, but that you planned to retire at the age of 60 by the sea in Spain. The laws of Spain stipulated that you could not bring any money into Spain with you when you arrived, or at any time after your arrival. But that before you arrived you could deposit a maximum of 100 pounds per month into your Spanish bank account. What would you do? I expect that you would diligently send your 100 pounds through every month for 40 years, so that you had enough to retire on. God encourages us to do the same for heaven. Although the bible doesn’t tell us everything about heaven, it does tell us that we can store up blessings for ourselves in advance.
The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. (Ps 24:1). What do you have that you did not receive? (1 Cor 4:7) Because wealth is relative, this principle ‘levels the playing field’ for all of us by making giving an issue of proportion rather than amount. The issue is not so much the amount that we give, but rather the amount of faith and trust in God that is represented by the amount that we give. God’s interest seems to be more in how much we keep than how much we give.
But King David replied to Araunah, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24).
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints (2 Cor 8:1-4). What a great attitude! They saw giving as a privilege to contend for and they even gave ‘beyond’ their ability. The issue here is one of faith. Give to the point where you need to trust God to help you to come out right at the end of each month. What a thrilling way to live.
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5-6). Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). The world system works to make us discontent with what we have so that we will buy more and more. In contrast to this, God urges us to get content with what we have and not be continually running after more and more (Mt 6:32). A practical way to do this is to work out what you need to live modestly, and then ‘close the loop’ so that extra income can be given away.
// Originally posted on Godfirst Blog //
Although there are just over 200 verses in the bible on faith, and about the same number on salvation, there are over 2,300 references to finance & money. As leaders, we must help our people come to grips with the impact of money on their souls. Here are five tips:
No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money (Lk 16:13). Jesus speaks straight about this: he gives money a capital ‘M’ and says, point blank, that Money and all it represents, contends with him for the throne of your life. Mammon is not the same thing as money, rather it is the spirit behind money. As with most demonic activities, the assault is one of deception…it tells us that a little more money will make us happier, that we need just a few more possessions to be satisfied, and that having more money or possessions will make us more popular and more powerful. It tells you that your net worth as an individual is based on your net wealth. And, wait for it, the only way to defeat Mammon is to consistently give money away.
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? (Lk 16:10-12). The correct handling of money is imperative before God will entrust you with true riches. I have never met a person who is being significantly used by God who has not first lined up his handling of money with what the Bible teaches. And sadly, I know people who would burst into a fruitful life if only they would submit to God’s ways in the realm of finance.
The Pharisees, who love money, heard this and were sneering at Jesus (Lk 16:14). If you get twitchy when you are provoked to give away money and be generous, it might indicate that you are actually more attached to money than you think you are.
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:9-10). Note that money is not the problem, rather the love of money is. Giving money away to God in a regular, generous and cheerful manner is the sure way to ‘fall out of love’ with money.
Whoever sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor 9:6). Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure that you use it will be measured back to you (Lk 6:38). God has set a law in place in the universe called ‘sowing and reaping’. This happens rather obviously when a farmer sows seed, but also happens when a Christian ‘sows’ his money. God says that he will organise that this person receives a decent ‘return’ on what they sowed. How wonderful! Not only do we give in order to stay free from the dangers of love for money and reliance on money, but we also get more of it…to give more…to get more…to give more…and along the way all this giving keeps us gloriously free from the snares of Mammon. There was a man, some called him mad. The more he gave the more he had (John Bunyan).
// Originally Posted on Godfirst Blog //
Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian. In part 2 of this series, we explore the pathway.
Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. (Mark 4:3-4)
These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them (Mark 4: 15)
The first seeds fall beside the road, on that hard pathway area that surrounds the field. There the seed doesn't penetrate but just sits on the surface. Then the birds come and take it away and it has no impact at all.
Luke's account says that the seed ‘was trampled underfoot’ (Luke 8:5). Jesus said 'do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet' (Matthew 7:6), referring to their indifference. You can be like that about the gospel itself, just indifferent to it by thinking nobody still believes that kind of thing or takes it seriously anymore. You can hear this in the media, the workplace, your family or sometimes from parents when you become a Christian. I remember my parents telling me not to take it all so seriously, no one takes that seriously anymore. The same seed that produces a hundredfold a few feet away reproduces nothing at all on the path. Why? Because the seed doesn’t penetrate. It doesn’t have any life imparting impact. It stayed on the surface.
This is obviously true for those who don't even entertain the possibility that God speaks at all, but it's also a very real warning to believers not to miss it. It's possible for Christians not to bother to take the word seriously and not be changed. Sometimes we dismiss truth and the seed lies on the surface. The Bible says we have an enemy and that the seed sown on the pathway is snatched away by the evil one (Matthew 13:19). This can happen even before we get out of the door at Church. We had a chat, a cup of coffee and so on, but the word didn't do anything in us. Whereas elsewhere it's phenomenally changing people.
A friend of mine was visiting the church of a famous preacher. He said he was so impacted by the sermon that he just wanted to go home and seek God about what he'd heard. Walking behind two people, he heard one say to the other 'he was quite good this week wasn't he?' and the other said 'yes, but not as good as last week'. No penetration! Simply observing how the preacher performed. The seed simply lies on the surface.
So the pathway is dangerous turf. It says in Matthew 13:18 that the seed which falls on the pathway is referring to someone who 'hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it'. Some will say 'well you take me as you find me, I'm Joe Blunt, I speak my mind, I don't take the bible very seriously because well, who can understand it? By not receiving the word, he's not being changed by it. He's not thinking 'oh I see, I need to change my worldview on this, I need to change my attitude on this, the way I run my home, the way I look after my wife, the way I train my children'. He's not being shaped by truth because 'well who can understand it? The Bible's difficult'.
When we don't understand, it's not because we've got low IQ, or we're not very clever, it's because we won't become as a little child, and let it speak to us and give it full weight. Paul instructed that we consider what he said and the Lord will give us understanding (2 Timothy 2:7). That's a twofold process. You consider it and the Lord will give you understanding.
When you first go to Starbucks, you read the menu and find lattes, americanos and cappuccinos and you think 'all I want is a coffee!' You've got to learn the language. And if we're going to be serious about growing as a Christian, maybe producing a hundredfold, we've got to start understanding the language of scripture and letting truth penetrate. The word is able to change us. It's able to do us good. It's powerful. So beware the danger of just missing it and letting it stay on the surface ready for the bids to steal.
Interpreting the parable of the sower as simply about coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus is missing its full significance. The familiarity of the story can cause you to switch off to an interpretation that is relevant to both the new and the experienced Christian.
The parable of the sower is the first reference to a parable in Mark’s gospel. Perhaps it could be called the 'parable of the different soils', because it's main feature is fundamentally how different soils respond to the seed. There's also something unique about this parable because Jesus said, if you don't understand it, how will you understand all the parables?
Jesus said, “The seed is the word of God.” Every time God speaks, this parable happens. Every Sunday we have a dynamic experience of the parable of the sower. As we sit and hear the word, we represent all kinds of different soils, different ways of responding to what is being said. Week by week, as we gather in churches, seed is being thrown and different hearts are receiving the word of God in different ways.
It may be a word about prayer, faith or victory over sin. It may be a word about your family or financial resources. Words are coming to you. Words that have power, that can change you, save you or rescue you from anxiety, fear and small vision. A dynamic process takes place. These words can produce life. How you receive them is the big issue. How do you receive these words? So please don't think 'oh I know about the parable of the sower’. No, it’s about how we receive what God is saying to you about all sorts of things.
Jesus said, ‘My words are Spirit and life’. He is a life imparting Spirit. He can impart life to you. You can be full of anxiety; He can change that with a word. You may have problems with lust; He can change that with a word. You may have all sorts of things that we battle with; a word can set you free. The question is, how do we respond to these words?
In the next few posts, we will explore the different kinds of responses to God's word through this parable.
// Originally posted on Terry's Blog //
In the gospels, Jesus used the word “call’ to describe His invitation to repent, turn to him and live for God’s Kingdom. He also uses ‘call’ for the summons of the twelve to be with Him and be sent out. In contrast to today’s thinking, Jesus’ ‘call’ is not a change of occupation such as leaving the “secular” workplace and going into “the ministry.”
Regarding this idea of “calling”, Paul writes in his letters with this consistent pattern: “Here is what Christ has done, now live out of that incredible truth.” –and– “Bask in the riches of God’s love and acceptance of you because of what Jesus has done and let your life demonstrate this truth in everything you do.” In Ephesians, Paul lays out all of the incredible declarations of God’s riches at Christ’s expense and then starts chapter 4 with his usual “therefore” statements. Paul does this for 11 chapters in Romans and then begins to explain how one lives out of this truth in Romans 12 with “Therefore…” He lays out two incredible chapters in Colossians about the believer’s standing with the glorious Son of God and then in chapter 3 starts his appeal to their own life and calling. He gives some of the most beautiful truths of what Christ did in humbling Himself in the first 2 chapters of Philippians, then starts chapter 3 with his appeal for them to live out of this truth.
Paul realizes that if any of us are going to change in any manner it has to be because of the One who has first done it all for us. He focuses our attention on Christ and his work and then reminds us of “whom” we’ve been called to.
When we read, “Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Ephesians 4:1), we assume we are supposed to live up to something and therefore make ourselves worthy by our walk. The word “worthy” (Gr. “axios”) should be translated “responsive to” or “suitable to” your calling. It is a call to live out of a response of the truth that you’re already worthy rather than to live to prove you’re worthy. If calling means nothing more that to gain our own favor, then we have missed it! In this view, WE are not being called to Christ but in reality, to ourselves.
It’s important for Christians to grasp that we are not just called to “something”; we are called to Someone. Jesus and his finished work through the cross and resurrection has opened the way for us to live with him as he calls us to be yoked with him on his glorious and ongoing work in our world today.
Missional churches require missional leaders. At my home church, we ask our people on a weekly basis to engage their neighbors with relationship and the gospel. We ask them to stay in prayerful contact with at least 2 or 3 who are un- churched to develop genuine friendships and to be listening to the Holy Spirit for opportunities to share the gospel and/or invite them to church. We feel it is essential that we build a missional mindset into our members for three key reasons: 1) to disciple them into what it means to be a Christian, 2) for Jubilee to be evangelistically relevant and 3) to progress in our mission to Connect People to Jesus. Our primary evangelistic strategy isn’t mass revival, but one-on-one evangelism. I agree with Bill Hybels who says, “The Kingdom of God advances one life at a time.”
For us to maintain integrity to our vision and be effective leaders, it’s crucial that we are effectively modeling what it means to be missional. Leaders are the pace setters in the church. People will ultimately follow our example. After all, what right do we have to ask our people to do something that we are not? Andy Stanley in his book Making Vision Stick helpfully warns leaders by stating, “Your willingness to embody the vision of your organization will have a direct impact on your credibility as a leader.”
It is human to lose focus and lose energy even for something we are convinced is true and right. We all know that personal evangelism is something we should do, but it’s very easy to let this slide especially if we have lots of great friends in the church (also important). There’s a tension that we must manage personally and then help others manage which is cohesiveness and inclusiveness. We must not let one win over the other.
There are a few us that will pull too hard on mission at risk of community (what happens when an evangelist leads a church), but most of us will pursue community at the risk of mission. So it’s easy to get out of the habit of being consistent in evangelism. Let a couple of months slip by and before you know it, you can easily lose all contact with un-churched friends. It can be difficult to stoke the fire back up for the unsaved because it’s really comfortable to stay true to the churched relationships.
There are two pitfalls as leaders we must avoid at this stage: 1) Faking it and 2) Avoiding it. We fake it by acting passionate about something that we are neither passionate about or are we actively participating in. This is very dangerous leadership. Avoiding it can be equally dangerous. Because you are not doing it, you don’t feel in good conscious that you can ask others so you avoid it. The result is that no one is engaging and the entire location can soon lose its missional edge.
As apostles establish churches they become like fathers to those churches and to the leaders of those churches. In this context apostles model servant leadership to those they will later appoint as leaders. When Paul met with the elders of Ephesus a few months after he left that city, he reminded them of his style of ministry as they had observed it when he was living among them. ‘You know,’ say Paul, ‘how I lived the whole time I was with you’1. His pattern was to serve with humility and tears.
As far as we can piece it all together from different references, Paul’s pattern in Ephesus was to work hard in the mornings in his tent-making shop; to teach in the hall of Tyrannus during the heat of the day (according to one manuscript of Acts 19), when most people would be taking their siesta; and to go from house to house in the evenings, teaching much more intimately and even shedding tears in his concern that the revelation of God’s word might come home to them. Such hard work was a demonstration of God’s love to the weak.2
House to house – or extended family to extended family – is still the evangelistic and teaching method of the churches I work with in Pakistan. I remember asking each of the leaders of our churches there how many people they were now ministering to in their churches. They did not reply as we would in a Western context, with numbers of members or Sunday attendance, but gave a number of ‘family’ – extended families, of course! Their evangelistic method is to ‘visit the families’, as is their style of pastoral fellowship and care. Paul may have been visiting extended families (households) or house churches – there was probably considerable overlap between the households and the house churches.
In addition to fathering churches it is important for apostles to provide ongoing care as well. Indeed, Paul records this as one of the greatest pressures upon him. Having set out a whole catalogue of his sufferings, he adds, as if it were one of the greatest strains on him emotionally, ‘Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’3
Despite such serious concerns as division in the church, incest and the abuse of spiritual gifts, Paul still claimed the church in Corinth and its very existence as proof of his apostleship!4 In Corinth, Paul had to contend with the church beginning to question his apostolic authority. Even the fact that he had been determined not to receive financial support from them, so as to serve them effectively, was turned against him with the challenge that ‘real apostles’ get paid.5 That attitude is still around in the church today.
We might raise the question – isn’t ‘care’ the responsibility of the pastor gift? In the biblical model of leadership, the shepherd heart undergirds all genuine godly leadership. The leaders of Israel were called ‘shepherds’ quite deliberately. God is our ‘Shepherd’. Apostles therefore are to be shepherds. The care of the churches involves much emotional energy, disappointment and frustration, yet also great joy. This duty of care is largely handed over to elders once the church is established. Apostles then continue to care for the churches ‘from a distance’ and never (or at least rarely) independently of the eldership.
1 Acts 20:18
2 Acts 19:1-22
3 2 Cor. 11:28
4 1 Cor. 9:1-2
5 1 Cor. 9:3-18
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul - Psalm 94:19 (NASB)
The fact is that anxieties do multiply. They breed! One leads to another, so that your imagination, mingled with fear, can take you on a journey into despair and depression.
Some of the Bible’s greatest heroes, such as Elijah, Moses and David knew such times. They wanted to take wings and fly away, to die, to have their lives taken from them. Anxiety is powerful and energy sapping, robbing you of peace and security.
Anxiety wants to take you into an imagined future of failure and shame. It certainly doesn’t want to remind you of God’s previous faithfulness and loving-kindness. It wants to direct your imagination into a day that does not yet exist, a day where God’s grace has not yet arrived. That imagined day has not yet happened so God’s grace has not been manifested for it yet.
Fears project you and your anxious thoughts into a make believe world in the future, while Jesus says ‘take no thought for tomorrow’. The psalmist says ‘your consolations delight my heart’. I love that NASB rendering of the verse.
God knows how to console. His consolations are powerful, rooted in His character, power and constant faithfulness. But the power of the verse lies in the word ‘delight’. It is so important not merely to acknowledge them but to actually delight in them.
It’s not enough to know about them, you must drink deeply! Make sure that your heart is delighted!
Anxiety is a powerful emotion with ability to multiply. Drink in God’s consolations, his love, faithfulness, awesome promises, ability to behead Goliath, to destroy Jericho walls, forbid fire to burn, close the mouth of lions, open prison doors, make a way where there is no way, cause rivers to gush out of a rock in the desert, feed millions in a wilderness and make all things work together for your good!
Is your heart delighting yet? Maybe you need, like Paul in a prison in Philipi, to start singing and praising till delight fills the soul. Then let Him bring the earthquake that breaks your prison chains. Just as God vindicated His call to Paul to go to Macedonia in the first place…
Paul refused to allow anxieties to multiply in that dark prison cell. Anxiety must yield when delight fills the soul, but make sure you don’t stop short of delight, or anxiety may not give ground.
How do we recognise true delight? Well, if anxieties multiply, consider some of the offspring of delight. As mentioned in the Thesaurus, these are some of its companions or offspring; pleased as punch, over the moon, on top of the world, like a dog with two tails, jump or dance for joy, purr with pleasure, be like a cat with a dish of cream, luxuriate in, bask, in, wallow, have fun, relish, smack ones lips. Get the picture? You need to have your soul smacking its lips with joy. Let the power of delight banish the false claims of multiplied anxieties. Let the Lord restore your soul, the joy of the Lord is your strength, enough to overcome all anxieties, but make sure you get right into full delight in God and all His faithfulness to you.
Anxieties can’t live with delight.
With Easter coming soon, we wanted to serve local church leaders by helping them to equip their church for mission. You can read Bryan's first post on the topic of being a missional church by clicking here.
What kind of habits will help you develop a more missional lifestyle? Go to the same places at the same times to develop a report with people. Some ideas would be the gym, gas station, coffee shop, grocery store, etc. Join a sports team. Coach your child’s sports team. However, the best way to grow in being a missional person is to show hospitality. There are 21 opportunities a week to invite someone to a meal. Take advantage of those opportunities. You might also consider starting a once a week/month desert night for your block.
In Thom Rainer’s book The Unchurched Next Door he reveals research that says that 82% of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if someone invited them. Additionally, the unchurched are more likely to consider matters of faith during: 1) Christmas, 2) Easter, 3) Major Crisis, 4) Natural disaster and 5) a birth of a baby.
“I would love to see what you make of my church.”
“Our mutual friend __________________ is getting baptized/becoming a member and I think it would be great to support her. Let’s go as a group and get a bite afterwards to celebrate the occasion.”
Apostles don’t just plant churches. Apostles are to bring an understanding of the revelation of Gods purposes on earth. So as to ensure that the churches for which they are responsible understand this revelation and their part in it.
In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul prays for his readers that God may give them ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelations’1. His passion was revealed in the prayer: “Do you really understand the amazing purposes of God now being fulfilled through Jesus Christ? Do you understand the role of the church of Jesus Christ in God’s great purposes in the earth? Do you understand your place as members of God’s church in God’s overall purposes?”
The first three chapters of Ephesians give a summary of Paul’s understanding of this mighty revelation. The apostolic revelation is about the glory of God in his purposes for Christ, the church and the world. You might say that any Bible teacher could teach this so why is apostolic ministry relevant in this context? It is true that all Bible teaching should reflect these truths, but as Paul goes on to write in Ephesians 4, God gives different gifts. What, if anything, is distinct about the teaching gift of the apostle?
Firstly, apostolic teaching is foundational (even in churches the apostle has not founded), whereas, we might say, the teacher usually builds on an apostle’s teaching – perhaps maintaining and clarifying it.
Secondly, the gift mix of the apostle is typically broader than that of a teacher. For example, apostles are particularly skilled at ensuring both correct doctrine and correct application.
An understanding of God’s revelation must precede any practical outworking of what apostles do. As Barney Coombs put it, commenting on this section of Ephesians, ‘Revelation precedes methods. If people do not see it you automatically end up with systems’2. We do not want to devise new systems or start new organisations; rather, apostles are concerned to see the church of Jesus Christ fully understand the revelation of God.
What Barney Coombs is saying is that in our eagerness to see churches grow; it is not helpful simply to transfer methods that have worked in one part of the world to another part. Though we can learn from the whole body of Christ worldwide and helpfully study what has been successful in different contexts, it is ultimately an understanding of the revelation of God that will enable us to play our part in accomplishing his purposes, rather than attempting to copy methods which may work in one culture but not in another. Methods relate to a particular culture or church context, while revelation transcends and transforms us, as we express the gospel in any cultural or church context.
1 Eph. 1:17
2 Barney Coombs, hand-out at seminar by Barney Coombs attended by David Devenish, Yarm, UK, March 2007
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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